Dealing with valuable relics is delicate work. There are tens of thousands of qualified professionals working hard every day to ensure that our past is not forgotten and our treasures stay safe for generations to come. But occasionally, someone much less appreciative of historical wonder will get a hold of one of those treasures, cut a neckhole in it, and wear it as a chili bib. Here are those stories.
#6. Ripping Apart the Star-Spangled Banner
The most treasured possession of the Smithsonian Museum is the Star-Spangled Banner, one of the very first American flags to be manufactured during the Revolutionary War. Back then, the flag was made with 15 stars, but count 'em up, and you'll only spot 14:
Did they cut it out with a weed eater?
What happened there? Was it flying over some desperately defended American fort when a British cannonball pierced its noble hide ... yet still it waved on in defiance? It's a scene that would bring a single majestic tear to a bald eagle's eye. But it's not reality. The real story is this: All those missing pieces were cut off with scissors and given away as stocking stuffers.
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"Oh look, a tiny, centuries-old scrap of fabric. Um ... thanks, Santa."
After it flew proudly over Baltimore during the final battle of the war, Lt. Col. George Armistead took the impressively huge 30-foot-by-42-foot flag home as a keepsake, while Francis Scott Key wrote the shiny new nation's anthem in its honor. When Armistead died, he passed it on to his wife, and when she died in 1861, it passed again to their daughter, Georgiana Armistead, who thought it was so lovely, she couldn't bear to keep it all to herself.
Georgiana began to shop the banner around to museums that wanted to borrow it, but it wasn't enough for people to just see it on display -- they wanted to own a piece of history, too. And so, bombarded with requests for fragments of the flag, Georgiana began snipping pieces off of it and handing them out to whomever she deemed worthy. It was considered a great honor, usually bestowed on worthy folks like war heroes and famed politicians -- but she was still tearing off pieces of the Star-Spangled Banner like they were tabs at the bottom of a "Free Guitar Lessons" flier.
Except that people actually had an interest in the flag.
By the time horrified Smithsonian conservationists halted Georgiana's all-you-can-snag flag buffet in 1907, more than 200 square feet of it had been removed and mailed off to collectors, including one of the stars. Legend says it was gifted to none other than Abraham Lincoln. But the recipe for most good legends is two parts bull to one part shit, and Georgiana was far more sympathetic to the Confederate cause, so it probably landed in the pocket of some racist buttwad. So if your great-great-great-grandpa was a giant wad of racist butt, maybe give your attic a check for something blue and pointy that's not an old Stabby Smurf doll.
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Although we imagine ol' Stabby is also worth a fortune on eBay.
#5. A Man Paintballs Some Native American Artworks for No Reason
For more than a thousand years, the Native Americans living in the Colorado River Valley considered Grapevine Canyon sacred ground. It contains some of the best-preserved rock paintings and carvings of their entire civilization and has survived plagues, conquest, and climate change ... but it did not survive the D-man.
In 2010, David Smith decided that this priceless relic of our pre-colonial past would look a lot better covered in random neon splatters. Smith was going for a nice peaceful hike through Grapevine Canyon, and, since no nature walk is complete without a spirited round of p-ball against the local fauna, Smith was, of course, carrying his paintball gun. One thing led to another, and a priceless artifact was destroyed by a dude who likes Call of Duty, but doesn't feel like it leaves enough bruises.
Apparently teabagging an opponent can get weirder.
When Smith was caught after his shooting spree, he offered no excuse for it. He even admitted to seeing the warning signs that the area contained a historical monument, but still thought, "You call that a buffalo? Bet I could do better with this here gun." He was fined $10,000 in damages, but unfortunately, due to the type of paint he used, it cannot be cleaned without further damaging the rocks.
This type of thing is precisely why some areas actually refuse to label sacred ground, so as not to attract vandals. But that leads to its own problems, like when contractors accidentally destroyed some other ancient Native American artworks because somebody forgot to write "IRREPLACEABLE PART OF HISTORY; DO NOT RAM WITH TRACTOR" on it.
#4. An Ancient Pyramid Turned into a Road
The Nohmul pyramid was one of the largest Mayan pyramids in the small Central American country of Belize. Built 2,000 years ago and standing over 100 feet tall, it sat at the center of a settlement consisting of 81 buildings and served as the No. 1 prayer spot for 40,000 Mayans.
That doesn't really look like much of a pyram- oh.
We're using the past tense there, because the Mayans interbred and advanced right along with modern civilization and now do most of their praying in front of the toilet, like the rest of us slobs. And because, in 2013, builders decided that the pyramid would be more useful in its alternate form: a road. So they bashed it to the ground and used it for paving materials.
The "aliens built the pyramids" theorists are never gonna shut up about this little faux pas.
Their excuse for the destruction was that, technically, the pyramid was on private land and they had the permission of the owner. Sound logic: That's exactly why, if you're out digging in your yard one day and accidentally unearth the Holy Grail, you're perfectly free to drink Schlitz out of it and whip it at your annoying neighbor's head. But that doesn't mean you're not an asshole for doing so. Thankfully, the Belize government didn't take kindly to this archaeodickitry and pursued criminal fines over the matter. Fines that reach all the way up to $10,000, a number that we sincerely hope is missing a 0, or else Belize is way more (morally or fiscally) bankrupt than we thought.